Simply food


Comfort food is very much on my mind as we finish up the last of the Christmas turkey in a splendid and tasty turkey pot pie.


Turkey pot pie graces the Christmas Day table

My beloved wife declared last year that she was going vegetarian and for much of my cooking this past year I have listened to her words. But I was unwilling to keep a fresh turkey off the table for Canadian Thanksgiving, even though this year I celebrated in England with a bird specially ordered from the local village butcher. Herself complained about the “corpse” in the cooler and said she wasn’t, absolutely and definitely, going to allow another corpse into the house for Christmas. So to satisfy her I trotted down to Toronto’s historic St. Lawrence Market and threw myself at the mercy of Pat Gasparo of Brown Brothers, the oldest butchers in the entire place. “No problem,” he says and produced a turkey breast. Half an hour later, he had skinned and deboned the meat and slipped it anonymously into my recycled shopping bag. Nothing corpse-like here.

My next challenge was to prepare something for Christmas Day, using turkey, without looking like turkey, so that our guests would feel happy and sated on tryptophan, the amino acid found only in turkey meat, which is why we always feel sleepy after a big feast.

Clearly a pie was called for and my mind turned to a favourite comfort food: chicken pot pie. A quick glance at the recipe in Market to Table: The Cookbook shows that it can easily be repurposed for turkey and the quantities increased for the larger number of guests, or reduced to make individual pot pies. Since I had bought more turkey than required, I cooked it all at once and saved the rest for a second batch a few days later, so the recipe works equally well with fresh or Christmas left-over turkey.


Hot from the oven, the puff pastry crust scored to make serving easier

A few words on pies. If you are reading this in Great Britain (as I will refer to my once again ‘great’ homeland, since the splendid December election results), you may wonder what a pot pie is, since this seems to me to be entirely a North American definition. Pies in GB during my formative years tended to fall into two categories. First, various fillings with pastry crust all around, then baked: savoury pies such as steak and kidney pie; sweet pies such as apple pie or mince pie. Other pies, such as shepherd’s pie (lamb), cottage pie (beef and/or pork) and fish pie, have a mashed potato topping. Since the turn of the last century, mince pies have contained no ‘mince’ or meat; the word actually refers to the method of chopping up the ingredients. Next came savoury fillings with a suet crust all around, then tied in a muslin bag and steamed, usually known as ‘puddings.’ The recent pub trend of separately baking a little hat of puff pastry and using it as a topping for various stews is hardly a pie to my mind, but it is the closest thing GB has to a pot pie.

Apparently, the Greeks invented stews and the Romans added the idea for pies by adding a crust on top. In mediæval times, along came the anglicised name taken from the magpie, a bird said to steal various items and hide them, hence a pie with various fillings hiding under a crust. Clearly pot pies have been around for a long time, just known by different regional names.

The French for a pastry filled pie is pâté en croûte, of which the variations are extensive. I believe there must be a pot pie equivalent, for the basic ingredients of the North American version go to the very roots of French cuisine. A typical pot pie contains a velouté, one of the five ‘mother’ sauces of French cooking, in which warmed chicken stock is thickened using a blond roux. The veggies are simply a variation of mirepoix, which in French cuisine is chopped, or julienned, vegetables, usually a mixture of onions, carrots, and celery, lightly sautéd. Finally, a French pie often uses pâte brisée, or short crust pastry. (In my recipes I take a short cut and use frozen puff pastry.)

The French Canadian tourtière, which traditionally combines ground or minced beef and pork is more like the standard GB pie, with pastry top and bottom.

Whatever the derivation, enjoy this succulent offering, redolent with the delicious aroma of turkey, the flaky crust golden brown, filled with tender meat and tasty veggies in a rich white sauce.


Shopping listPIE 3

  • 1 lb (454 g) boneless, fresh skinless turkey, cubed OR cooked left-over roast turkey
  • 2 cups (500 mL) chicken stock
  • 1 cup (250 mL) dry white wine
  • 1 small onion, well chopped
  • 2 cups (500 mL) well chopped carrots
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • sea salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) fine white sauce flour, or all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) whipping cream
  • 1 cup (250 mL) frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1 pkg rolled up frozen puff pastry, thawed but chilled
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preparation and cooking

  1. In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the chicken stock, wine, chopped onion, carrots and celery to the boil. Add a bay leaf, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 mins.
  2. Add the chopped turkey and simmer uncovered for a further 10 mins. (NOTE: If using cooked left-over turkey, chop into bite size portions and skip this step.)
  3. Strain the stock into a bowl and put the dry turkey and vegetable mixture in the dish you are going to use for the pie, which should have an 8 cup (2 L) capacity and be fairly deep. (NOTE: If you are using left-overs, add them now.) Measure out 2 1/2 cups (625 ml) of the new stock and add more chicken stock or water if there is not enough.
  4. Back in the saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook but do not brown, whisking constantly, for about 2 mins, then add the hot stock and whisk until smooth to make a velouté. Bring to a boil, reduce, then cook for about 5 mins until the sauce thickens. Lastly, stir in the cream and cook for a final 2 mins. At this stage check for seasoning and add more sea salt and pepper as needed.
  5. Tip the sauce over the turkey and veggie filling in the dish and stir to coat well. Add the peas (making sure they are thawed) and mix in gently. Try not to break up the pieces of meat, especially if it is pre-cooked.
  6. Moisten the edges of the dish with water, roll the thawed puff pastry onto the top of the pie and crimp round the edges. Make several slits for the steam to escape. TIP: If the dish is large, score the puff pastry almost all the way through into portion sizes, for ease of serving. Brush with the beaten egg.
  7. Bake in a 400°F/200°C oven until golden brown on top, puffed up and the filling bubbling, about 30 mins. Serve immediately.

Featured image: turkey pot pie

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This is Nigel’s 265th blog on Gentleman’s Portion, and the first article for 2020, our eighth year of continuous weekly publication. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories. The link to Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is now live, well priced at $9.99 or £9.99.

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